IRA enforcer Padraic Conner Wilson has been freed on High Court bail today.
It came after Sinn Fein MLA told the bail hearing: Padraic Wilson supports the peace process.
The 53-year-old will be released from Maghaberry prison where he had been held on remand since last week.
He was charged in connection with the murder of Robert McCartney who was killed in January 2005 by a dozen strong IRA gang outside Magennis’s pub in Belfast city centre.
Mr McCartney was said to have been killed after he made a gesture to the wife of Terry ‘Tight Trunks’ Davison.
Davison later stood trial for the Mr McCartney’s murder but was acquitted of the charge and a further charge of affray.
Wilson, of Hamill Park, Andersonstown, west Belfast, was charged with membership of a proscribed organisation and organising a meeting in support of the IRA.
During today’s High Court hearing, Sinn Féin’s South Antrim MLA Mitchel McLaughlin gave evidence in support of Wilson being freed.
He said that Wilson had made a valuable and strategic contribution in changing attitudes within republican circles to policing and the criminal justice system.
Mr Justice Mark Horner QC agreed that there were no grounds to suggest that Wilson would interfere with witnesses and he released him on bail.
Yesterday, Sinn Fein held an illegal protest at PSNI headquarters in east Belfast over Padraic Wilson.
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly was surrounded by several hundred supporters as he demanded the immediate release of Wilson, labelling the charges against him “bizarre”.
“We believe that this arrest is politically motivated, that it comes from within the Serious Crime department of the PSNI and it is, frankly, a small minority still within the PSNI who are against new beginnings to policing and who are using things like this to put it into crisis,” said the former Old Bailey bomber.
Mr Kelly said the allegations were driven by an “old agenda within the PSNI”. He said he would be raising the issue with the Policing Board.
“They aren’t trying to find answers to long-running questions,” he said.
He added: “This is not about bringing the killers of Robert McCartney to justice, it’s quite the opposite. It is targeting people who wish to help.
“Police have failed to bring forward someone for the killing of Robert McCartney to justice.”
During a press conference with fellow party members Catriona Ruane and Alex Maskey, the north Belfast MLA called on the Chief Constable Matt Baggott to review what was happening within the Serious Crime Unit.
“Throughout the mid 90s and up until his release in 2000, Pádraic Wilson played a pivotal role in building support among prisoners for the peace process,” said Mr Kelly.
“Since his release he has continued to play a central role in supporting and developing the political process. His arrest represents a very serious challenge to the political process.”
However, the party as yet has stopped short of withdrawing from the Northern Ireland Policing Board or local district policing partnerships in protest at his arrest.
“This has gone through republicanism like a bushfire,” he said.
“I can tell you frankly that many, many people have been in touch, from other colleagues, very angry about the idea that someone who was crucial to bringing people along in the peace process and political process is now behind bars where he should not be.”
However, the SDLP’s west Belfast MLA Alex Attwood accused Sinn Fein of trying to influence the justice system.
“In previous years, Sinn Fein complained of ‘political influence’ over the courts and of ‘political policing’,” he said.
“Today, in a brazen public way, Sinn Fein are at the same. People campaigned, worked and struggled to change ‘the old order of things’, for now Sinn Fein to recreate it, a modern version of the failed past, a renewed attempt to pressure politically the due process of law.”
The Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said plans for a protest were “unacceptable”.
“It is hard to imagine a situation anywhere else in the western world where a party of government would take to the streets to demand the release of someone accused of serious terrorist offences,” he said.
“Not only that but Wilson continues to hold a senior post within the party.”
Wilson was at one time the leader of IRA prisoners in the Maze Prison in the late 1990s. He is Sinn Fein’s director of international affairs.
Wilson is also facing further IRA membership charges dating back more than a decade ago.
He and four others, including the IRA’S former ‘OC’ in Belfast, Seamus ‘Niker Max’ Finucane, are to face trial on belonging to a proscribed organisation and organising a meeting in support of the IRA.